Sunday, July 05, 2009

Patience, Rhetoric, and Common Realities
July 2009 email newsletter, Vol. 2, #005

The night fell like freedom on the oppression of the day’s heat. After spending much of the day shooting photographs at an Independence Day celebration in tiny Ben Wheeler, Texas, I got home and finished reading a novel, Gregory Maguire’s “Son of a Witch,” that is the sequel to his “Wicked,” the real story of the Wicked Witch of the West. If we believe Maguire, she was misunderstood and misrepresented in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Son of a Witch” tells the story of Liir, who might be her son and who is trying to find himself and to do something good in that strange land.

The novel’s coda is a quote that Maguire credits to Thomas Jefferson from 1798: “A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true spirit, restore their government to its true principles.”

It is such an appropriate quotation for the hope of this July 4 as we look toward the end of the zero years (2000-2009) and toward, perhaps, the emergence of a new era. Give me that romantic notion. As I took the truth of Jefferson’s words, the real witches were those people who, one after another, ruled Oz for their own ends or who blindly followed orders.

I share another quote that grabbed me recently, this one from a newspaper column by Eugene Robinson: “But what about those who might not understand that it’s all just political theater . . . whether all the blast-furnace rhetoric coming from the right is giving validation and encouragement to some confused, angry man or woman with a rifle or a truck full of fertilizer – the next ‘lone wolf,’ preparing to howl.”

I try to decide if we live furled in the Jimi Hendrix version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and have done so since well before 2001, flowing into “Purple Haze,” or if we live in Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful.”

I try to keep in mind that it is fear, not hatred, that drives so many people and that patience, meaningful education, and experience can overcome fear. I abhor the egotistical fringe that fuels its own flame by fanning that fear.

Sometimes I would like to be the eccentric guy in one of those mediocre horror movies who tells everybody the truth but nobody believes him until it’s almost too late. Sorta a post-civilization, New rAge catcher in the rye, I suppose.

What would I say? I would remind, perhaps, that scientists recently discovered that 35,000 years ago during the Ice Age someone or some group sat in a cave in what is now southern Germany with a carved ivory figurine of a woman and played music on an 8.6-inch-long flute made from a hollow bird bone with five finger holes and a notched end. That information, from an archeological study, fascinates me for some reason.

In June, I planted some pale green vines that I hope will flourish, and will eventually share crimson passion flowers with me. It is an act of patience, a single opening of a door for the passing of all sorts of witches’ spells. It is an act to summon beauty, and I hope the beauty is worth the trouble that some tell me is a part of the vine’s selfishness, its habit of, like the world’s ordinary people, coming back again and again. That habit is a strength, however selfish it might be.

Today, I see tiny, inch-long red flowers beginning to bloom from another plant. These are the first flowers to bloom from something I put in the ground last fall. They do not listen to political theater. They will grow stronger. There will be more of them.